The wide range of disparities we see in modern Israeli society demonstrates that humanity requires a comprehensive change, one that answers economic, social, environmental and cultural issues. This change must take us back to our most fundamental Jewish values: community, family, social responsibility, unity as a people and universal responsibility.
Sustainability is the global response to these disparities, integrating the environment, society and economics in order to establish a better world. Academically, the term represents preservation not only of the natural environment but establishing a balance between environmental preservation and modern consumer culture.
In Judaism, sustainability represents traditional environmental values:
“Shabbat”: The Jewish Sabbath is a day of rest and equality for humanity and for the human relationship to God and the world.
“Shmita and Yovel”: Commandments connected to the cycles of the Land of Israel including produce, ownership, and the ideal economic order.
“Bal Tashchit”: Commandment to prevent waste, misuse, and corruption of the world's natural resources.
“Tza'ar Baalei Chaim”: Commandment to prevent pain to animals and all living things.
“Lo Tachmod”: Commandment of "Do Not Covet", against the worship of consumerism, ultracapitalism, and greed.
The connection between Judaism and the environment is necessary to establish a sustainable society in Israel. With this in mind, I chaired the Social-Environmental Lobby in the Knesset, passed major legislative reforms related to the environment, and helped found the organization Teva Ivri whose goal is to include within Judaism the commitment to the environment and sustainable living. By educating, raising awareness, and facilitating community action, Teva Ivri seeks to turn these Jewish values into the building blocks of Israeli culture and society.
Our focus this year is on Shmita, the sabbath year of the seven-year agricultural cycle required in the Torah to be practiced in the Land of Israel. Regrettably, upon our return to Zion, the year of shmita has become devoid of any real spiritual or substantial meaning for the majority of our population. The bond and the enthusiasm which characterize our aspirations regarding this mitzvah were transformed into a public issue which divides, creates halachic and economic bureaucracy, but nothing more.
At the end of the last shmita, we promised: never again a year of shmita like the one we had just experienced. We decided that in the future shmita can be a unifying factor in society, one of renewing spiritual values that truly affect the people and the land.
"Shmita Yisraelit" is an initiative to create new balances in our lives. Shmita Yisraelit includes all of the environmental movements and organizations; major government ministries including Ministies of the Protection of the Environment, Agriculture, and Education; businesses and public institutions. Its goal is to reinstate shmita in the awareness the whole of the Jewish nation, especially in Israel, as a year of self reflection, study, collective and environmental responsibility. Click below to learn more.